CIRCA:Preparing for Advocacy


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What the statistics say

The most common argument levelled against Humanities degrees is economic in nature. The general argument goes: Humanities graduates have more difficulty finding work than their science or engineering counterparts and so rather than contributing to society they become an economic burden. The following will address this economic argument using both Canadian and American surveys related to unemployment rates and pay-scale.

Executive Summary

The commonly held assumption that Humanities graduates do not do as well in the job market as their science, business and engineering counterparts is disputed. Using Canadian and American surveys of the last six years the following the following is determined:

  • On average Humanities graduates have a comparable unemployment rate to graduates of Mathematics, Biological Science, Natural Science and Physical Sciences.
  • The range of employment for Humanities majors varies significantly depending on one’s concentration.
  • The lower range in pay for Arts and Business graduates is comparable though there is a significant difference in the higher range in pay.
  • Graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Finance have the potential to make more than any other degree recipients though the disparity in pay amongst these BComm grads is more than $100,000; that’s double the difference in pay amongst graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
  • Some highly employable university graduates, such as Nurses and Teachers, have little room for advancement in pay ten years into their careers.


This 2006 survey by Statistics Canada highlights Labour force activity based on Major field of study (Figure 1).

Unemployment Rates

Unemployment Rate for Major Field of Study Figure 1. 2006 Census Data - [[1]]

According to this graph majors included in the category Humanities have the highest level of unemployment at 6.3% when compared to other postsecondary graduates . By comparison the categories: Education (3.3%); Health, parks, recreation and fitness (3.9%); Business, management and public administration (4.9%), Agriculture, natural resources and conservation (5.2%), Social and behavioural sciences and law (5.3%), Architecture, engineering, and related technologies (5.4%); and Other fields of study (5.1%) all fall below the average unemployment rate of 5.6%. What is notable in this graph is some of the other categories’ employment rates that also fall above the average and are very comparable to the unemployment rates of Humanities graduates. Mathematics, computer and information sciences (6.1%) include majors such as Mathematics, Computer science and Library science. Physical and life sciences and technologies (5.8%) include Biological sciences, Physical sciences and Natural sciences majors. Majors located in the categories Visual and performing arts, and communication technologies (6.2%) as well as Personal, protective and transportation services (6.1%) also have comparable unemployment rates to Humanities graduates while survey responds who did not complete a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree had the highest unemployment rate at 8.7%.

Within the category Humanities we see a further breakdown of the unemployment rates based on the major field of study:

Unemployment rate for Humanities Majors Figure 2. 2006 Census Data

As shown there is a significant range in unemployment figures for Humanities grads depending on their area of concentration or major. For example at the higher end are majors in Medieval and renaissance studies (9%) and Classical and ancient studies (8.1%) while on the lower end Theology and religious vocations (3.6%) and History (5.4%) are both below the average general unemployment rate of 5.6%; generalizations are characteristically misleading.

In comparison to Business majors, Health Professionals and Teachers, Humanities majors tend to have a higher unemployment rate but it is important to look into other factors as well. The following two graphs show the range in salary for a variety of majors as well as percent of change in one’s salary from the outset of their career to 10 years into their career. These graphs illustrate the importance of considering long-term effects in addition to short-term gains when deciding upon a college or university major. In Figures 3 and 4 data taken from [[2]] shows the lower and higher income ranges for Canadian graduates with 30 different degrees and designations. With a quick glance it is clear that the lower range of salaries are fairly comparable while the higher range of salaries show significant deviations; the lowest paying salaries for all of the surveyed concentrations differ by only $20,000 while the highest paying salaries differ by more them $60,000.

Chart Pay Range

Degree/Major Subject National Salary Data
Lower range Higher range
Bachelor's Degree $35,269 $96,294
Associate's Degree $32,580 $81,338
Master of Business Administration (MBA) $44,606 $133,737
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Computer Science (CS) $$43,166 $98,980
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology $33,678 $84,414
Doctorate (PhD) $43,314 $124,852
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Economics $36,982 $107,795
Bachelor of Arts (BA), English $31,114 $83,892
Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Accounting $36,178 $102,771
Bachelor of Engineering (BEng / BE), Mechanical Engineering (ME) $45,324 $$113,152
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Political Science (PolySci) $34,537 $94,910
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Sociology $33,179 $80,148
Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Finance $35,565 $98.391
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Accounting $35,045 $91,220
Bachelor of Engineering (BEng / BE), Electrical Engineering (EE) $48,050 $103,840
Bachelor of Arts (BA), History $33,150 $87,587
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Communications $33,355 $78,053
Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Business & Marketing $33,851 $93,398
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) $34,221 $94,013
Bachelor of Engineering (BEng / BE), Civil Engineering (CE) $45,331 $105,993
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Biology $35,274 $98,129
Master of Business Administration (MBA), Finance $49,111 $131,823
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Business & Marketing $31,992 $89,001
Bachelor of Engineering (BEng / BE), Computer Engineering (CE) $44,731 $97,333
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Finance $34,940 $93,655
Bachelor of Arts (BA) $33,842 $90,220
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Chemistry $36,060 $100,890
Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Accounting & Finance $39,645 $141,223
Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Marketing/Management $35,204 $$89,144
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Psychology $32,303 $87,898

Figure 3 October 7, 2012 data [[3]] Graph Pay Range

Figure 4 October 7, 2012 data

The highest paying degree received is the BCom in Accounting and Finance with a higher range maximum salary of $141,223. The potential income awarded to these recipients is higher than even degrees recipients with MBAs ($133,737), PhDs ($124,852) or MBAs with a specialization in Finance ($131,823). At the other end of the spectrum the lowest paying degree received is the Bachelor of Arts in English with a lower range minimum of $31,114. Let us compare the highest and lowest paying degrees more closely:

Degree Lowest Salary HIghest Salary
BA in English $31,114 $83.892
BComm in Accounting and Finance $39,645 $141,223

The range in pay that a BA English major could expect is a significant $52,778 (the highest salary accounted for is subtracted from the lowest salary). One could expect that this is due to the fact there are not many jobs that English majors are specifically trained for and so the range in pay reflects varying situations and experiences of these graduates. The range in pay for BComm in Accounting and Finance majors is even more suggestive with a difference of $101,578. These figures represent a major issue for these graduates as their salaries are extremely unbalanced. Though they have the potential to make a significant amount of money, seemingly more than any other degree, there is also more potential for greater upset in the workforce due to disparities in pay.

Notably absent in this survey are figures relating to the range of pay achieved by those with higher designated Arts degrees such as MAs. It would be interesting to compare how Arts and Humanities students fair once they have continued with further education. Additionally this survey does not take into account a variety of factors such as: years in the field (level of seniority), average hours worked, the average wage of degree holders, nor even the level of satisfaction these degree recipients have.

With the following graph (Figure 6) one receives a more realistic idea of potential salary growth based on area of study.

This graph illustrates how pay increased for survey participants approximately 10 years following an individual’s graduation. Notable in this case are degrees with little change such as Nursing and Physical Assistant. Keep in mind Figure 1 that indicated these degree recipients (located in health professions) were among the highest likely to be employed. This tells us that though these degrees are highly employable, there appears to be little room for advancement.

Other notable results seen are for Accounting and Finance degrees. According to Figures 3 and 4 these bachelor degrees had the highest potential pay. This graph shows that Accounting has a 67.6% pay increase and Finance 84.3%. These correspond closely to English grads (70.3% increase) and History grads (81.1% increase) though pale in comparison to Arts grads specializing in Economics (96.8%) or Philosophy (103.5%).

Additional Statistics

Know your audience - who to advocate to

Students and their Parents

  • Students need to decide which post-secondary institution to attend and which courses they want to take.
    • Students need to be sold on the value of taking humanities courses. Students are not only considering job prospects when deciding on their major, they are also taking into account the experiences a program affords them; travel, internships and social opportunities all play a part in a student's decision process.
  • Parents have an influence on, if not a direct say in, their children's decisions.
    • Parent's arguably need more convincing than their children do as parent's are primarily concerned with job opportunities upon finishing a degree. When describing the value of the humanities parents should be told about exciting program opportunities that students are eligible for in humanities degree programs.


  • Your own Institution
    • In the conference proceedings titled Making a Case for the Humanities: Advocacy and Audience presented at the 2012 Modern Language Association Roundtable, Barbara McFadden Allen makes the case for working within the existing framework of your own institutions: "If you are interested in conveying a message about the importance of the humanities, an awareness of and alignment with the messaging apparatus for your university or college will be an important part of a successful strategy."
  • Critical:
    • Ken Coates Campus Confidential, "The Uses and Abuses of the University"
    • Ian Clark Academic Reform
  • Supportive:
    • Grergory A. Petsko "Open Letter to SUNY Albany" [[4]]


  • Government
    • Every level of government (whether federal or local)is, by rule, open to the influence of its constituents. Whether public or private many higher education institutions receive government subsidies and so government becomes a very important audience for pro-humanities messaging.
      • As if the case when working with your own institution you should strive to develop key messaging that aligns with your government; in other words work within the existing framework.
  • Board of Governors
    • Support university leadership by establishing a relationship with them - by assisting in developing messages you can forward messages about the humanities.
  • General Faculties Council
    • Begin a dialogue with members of other faculties. Interdisciplinary work can lead to new insights and research developments and by expanding your subject of research you can in turn garner more attention for your discipline and in the process gain additional support.
  • Funding Agencies
    • Funding agencies will provide specific criteria that they are looking for when reviewing funding applications. Familiarize yourself with this criteria and consider modifying or even tailoring your research objectives. Though this may not be feasible in every case it is important to listen to the suggestions of these bodies and to at least consider the areas that the funding agencies deem relevant.


  • Barbara McFadden Allen:
    • When speaking with the media prepare three concise talking points on the value of the humanities.
    • Do not answer question from the media that you are unqualified to answer

The media has a compelling role on public opinion. Having media commentators, columnists and editors in defense of the Humanities ensures the articulation of a pro-humanities agenda to an arguably more informed yet general audience.

Margaret Wente is an influential columnist in Canada's The Globe and Mail and a one time panelist on CBC Radio's Q, a national arts magazine show. Wente is well-known for her critiques of Canada's post-secondary education system an example of which can be found here: [[5]. Her general position is that undergraduate university education is at a crisis. For one it is costing provincial governments in Canada, Ontario specifically is mentioned, too much. She suggests that there is a disconnect between what students need to prepare them for the job market and what university professors want to teach "to guide students to cultivate the life of the mind". Students are left uneducated when it comes to the potential return on their investment. There are too many graduates of the humanities and basic sciences when there should be more in applied sciences and technology. To elaborate she compares the starting salaries of Computing Science graduates from an American institution to its Psychology graduates; $59,000 for the former and $29,000 for the latter. Her final prod is at the university professors who increasingly churn out uncited and unread research in exchange for less time in the classroom.

In response to Wente's prolonged position Emmett Macfarlane, a professor at the University of Waterloo and writing for McLean's, wrote the following piece: [[6]]. Macfarlane cites a number of sources to discredit Wente's claims. First he shows that government funding is down: "government funding as a proportion of university revenues has gone from 80.9 per cent in 1989 to 58.3 per cent in 2009". The fact that student enrolment has outpaced faculty hiring by approximately 20 percent in the last decade derides the argument that teaching loads are down; less classes administered does not equate to less students taught. Speaking from personal experience Macfarlane reports that though research is an integral part of faculty members' focus it takes a back seat to teaching and administrative tasks during the academic year. Aside from putting aside Wente's claims MacFarlane also puts a call out to academics themselves. In light of growing criticism it has become time for university faculty to do a better job of explaining what it is they do, and how it benefits society. Macfarlane does not dismiss the fact that there is room for major improvement in the university system rather he is a proponent for informed-decision making as opposed to advisements based on myths and bad ideas.

The Public

Frame your message

  • Making a Case for the Humanities: Advocacy and Audience
    • Barbara McFadden Allen, Executive Director, Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) [[7]]
  • The Bok Blog - "STEM for the Liberal Arts?" [[8]]

Ethics around advocacy

Back to Advocacy Guide

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